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Spectacular Staging of Studio Ghibil’s ‘Spirited Away’

Updated: Jun 5

Fans of Studio Ghibli films have a treat in store from the moment they set foot in the London Coliseum, in a foyer populated with highly instagrammable cherry blossomed trees.

It’s an early sign that you’re about to be transported to another world – in this case, it’s Hayao Miyazaki’s ‘Spirited Away’ – the stage adaptation of one of this century’s most popular anime films.

‘Spirited Away’ comes hot on the heels of the multi-award winning ‘My Neighbour Totoro’, now scheduled to reopen at London’s Gillian Lynne Theatre in March 2025 following sell-out runs at the Barbican.

It’s from the same stable, but it’s a very different breed of show. Where Totoro exploded with energy, ‘Spirited Away’ is an elegant, mannered production that’s simply beautiful to behold.

Where Totoro left you walking home humming the tunes and full of child-like hope, ‘Spirited Away’ takes you to a darker space, with gorging parents turned into pigs, malign witches and gold-digging bathhouse attendants.

The darkest of all is the wandering spirit ‘No-Face’, played with breathtaking physicality by Hikaru Yamano, whose performance is worth the ticket price alone.

Like Totoro, ‘Spirited Away’ is the story of a young girl, this time the 10-year old Chihiro, on a quest, to save her parents and, later, to save the life of her spirit guardian, Haku. The production is in Japanese with translations at the side or above the stage.

And it’s the sense of being invited to share thousands of years of Japanese culture that is the show’s most enticing feature. As Chihiro journeys through the underworld on her hazardous journey, she encounters some of the country’s ‘eight million gods’ and some clever word play which is lost on non-Japanese speakers.

For a generation of theatregoers raised on the wonder of War Horse as the pinnacle of puppetry (absolutely mesmerising in that show’s context), ‘Spirited Away’ is on another level, proving a true feast for the eyes.

The puppetry, from the smallest soot sprite to the filthy river god breaking the theatre’s fourth wall is enchanting and engrossing, ideal for any theatregoer who prefers or depends on the visual medium to truly enjoy a show.

At three hours, this ambitious show follows Chihiro’s rite of passage rigorously, through Jon Bausor’s ingenious set, backed by Joe Hisaishi’s score. It’s unlike anything you have ever seen on stage before, sometimes bewildering, often beautiful and breathtaking.

And thanks to some fabulous performances, clever costume design and artful and restrained direction, by the end, you do truly feel ‘Spirited Away’.

‘Spirited Away’ runs until August 24, with a Relaxed Environment performance on Wednesday, June 12 (2.30pm) and British Sign Language performance on Wednesday, August 7 (7.30pm).

Pictured: Kanna Hashimoto as Chihiro and Hikaru Yamano as No-Face. Credit: Johan Persson






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